Sprint Flash Review: The Cheapest 12-Megapixels Ever
Some phones debut with lineups and fanfare -- the flagships, the moneymakers. Others are unceremoniously ushered into a lineup, stinkers from the beginning. But there's a third group that lack flashy debuts -- phones that are still worth a look: the Sprint Flash is one of those phones.
The Flash, made by ZTE, arrived to stores without hoopla -- blink and you'll miss it -- but it features software and a screen worthy of a much flashier release. If you're on Sprint, and you're looking for a mid-range device with top-notch multimedia, the Flash is a good pick, even if its 12-megapixel camera doesn't work as well as it suggests.
ZTE gets bonus points for the eco-friendly design -- it's certified ULE Platinum, meaning it uses eco-friendly materials. But unfortunately, the look isn't as exciting as its green factor -- it's not ugly, but it doesn't have many distinguishing features. At five ounces, it's a fairly chunky phone, similar in size to Samsung's Premier, another mid-range Android rival. But the closest cousin in terms of looks is the Render, since they both have curvaceous rectangle bodies, similar navigation buttons and chrome rings around the sides.
The Flash is the superior device, so the decision to make it look like the Render drags down its appeal. Still, the soft-touch dimples on the back gives it a distinct touch, and top, which juts out to support the camera lens, gives it some curves. Just don't get too excited about that camera, though -- more on that later.
Once you turn the phone on, the high-quality screen helps erase that comparison, because it's an excellent screen, especially for a mid-range device. At 4.5-inches with a 1,280-by-720 pixel resolution, it's a large canvas for a great viewing experience -- videos and images are crisp and clear. In addition, the 24-bit color is vibrant. Everything pops at all angles, thanks to the IPS technology. Now, don't expect the same vibrancy as HD screen on the LG Spectrum 2, but I found the overall quality impressive for a phone in this price range.
On an ordinary mid-tier phone, the sharp screen would be the high point, but the Flash boasts an incredible pixel count. Does that mean an impressive camera? In some ways, yes -- but not in the areas you'd expect. The pixels themselves don't do much for the photo quality, though the robust editing options let you spruce them up. No, the 12-megapixel lens seems like it should be on a higher-end device, but once you actually use it, you'll see that mo' megapixels sometimes equals mo' problems.
First, what's good about this camera: the editing options and filters are very generous. Not only do you get six shooting modes, including a decent panorama mode, you also get 10 picture sizes, six ISO options and five white balances. There are even 11 Instagram-like filters -- you can also just download Instagram, if you like to double-filter your pictures. You can manually adjust contrast and saturation, and set five shutter interval modes, for when you want to take more than one picture at a time. Auto-focus, face recognition, geo-tagging, five bust modes... it'd be easier to list the settings it doesn't have -- and I can't even think of any.
But does that add up to a great camera? No, it's really a shame, but not all megapixels are built the same. Despite the seemingly sure-hit Sprint has on its hands, the camera is oddly lacking. Sure, you can zoom in, but it tends to produce blurry shots, even if you have a neurosurgeon-level steady hand. And the color saturation is a bit off, with bright colors washing out to the point that no amount of after-the-fact tinkering can save them. I wouldn't call the lens a complete bust, but photos are far worse than what you'd expect from 12-megapixels. You can record high-definition videos at 1080p resolution, but the same problems from the photos persist, and a second 1-megapixel front-facing lens is fine for video chat.
The software, though, will perk you up. It runs on ICS. While it's not Jelly Bean, it's still decent, and it's the closest thing to vanilla Android you'll find besides the Nexus. You'll miss out on Jelly Bean's streamline interface and menus -- until Sprint pushes out an update -- so it's not a big deal. Bloatware is also kept to a minimum, with genuinely useful Google apps making up the bulk of the pre-loaded options. Sprint included just two apps, and one of them is very useful: Sprint Zone lets you check your phone balance and how much money you owe, so you can keep track of your bills. It a smart idea and a refreshing change to carriers that try to sneakily racking up charges -- ahem, Verizon. I'd like to see it on more phones.
The Flash comes with 8-gigabytes of internal memory, which is not a lot of space considering the large photos you'll take, but fortunately, you can boost that memory a microSD slot. If you plan to take a lot of photos or videos, you'd be wise to buy a card. The 1,780 mAh battery, meanwhile, lasts around eight hours of continuous use, which should be enough juice to power you through the day. The 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip, though, is less impressive. Even though it's the same sort of processor you'd find on the Galaxy S3, for some reason, it doesn't prevent the occasional lag. I'm not sure what's going on with it, but if I didn't see the spec sheet, I'd have assumed it was a much less powerful chip judging by the way it runs.
The Flash also runs on Sprint's fast 4G LTE service. It's not as extensive as Verizon and AT&T's networks, but as long as you have a signal, the connection is plenty fast, so check to see if coverage is good your area. If your company runs on enterprise software, the Flash can keep your data secure with SAFE device management, on-device encryption and compatibility with virtual private networks.
As long as you're fine with an older version of Android, the Flash is a solid mid-range device. It's reasonably priced, too, making it one of the best bangs for the buck, even if the camera disappoints. ♦
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IPS (Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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